A warm sunny day in London, a jam-packed The Oval cricket ground echoing with the chants of the fans, the two greatest cricketing rivals– Pakistan and India – set for a showdown in the final of one of the biggest cricket tournaments in the world, the ICC Champions Trophy.
India, after winning the toss, had put Pakistan into bat. The experienced Azhar Ali and the young Fakhar Zaman strode out to open the batting.
These were the scenes no one would have imagined before the tournament started, or even after the tournament kicked off.
But the tide turned, fortune favoured the brace and Pakistan were in the final of the Champions Trophy, eventually outclassing India by 180 runs to emerge triumphant.
The tournament produced several new stars from Pakistan. Prominent among them was Fakhar Zaman.
The Champions Trophy final changed everything for Zaman, both in his personal life and his cricketing career.
Things could’ve been different had fortune not played a huge part. Zaman was caught behind off the first delivery of the fourth over of the match, sent down by Jasprit Bumrah. The Indians were celebrating, Zaman was walking towards pavilion with his head down in dismay when suddenly, he was stopped by the umpires as replays confirmed that Bumrah had overstepped and bowled a no-ball.
A new lease of life for Zaman.
“When I was out earlier, I was shattered,” Zaman said in an exclusive chat. “I had made a lot of promises to my family members. While walking back to the pavilion, I was recalling each and every word my parents said to me before the match.
“As the umpire signalled a no-ball and called me back to the crease, it was a new lease of life for me. I realised that Almighty had provided me an opportunity to fulfil my parents’ wishes.”
It was his first big match, and only the fourth of his career after making his debut in the same tournament, replacing Ahmed Shehzad.
After returning to the middle, Zaman settled down and then smashed Indian bowlers all around the park to complete his maiden century.
He hammered three sixes and 12 boundaries to score 114 off 106, which helped Pakistan set a huge strong target of 339 for India to chase in 50 overs.
For the young and inexperienced Zaman, it has to the highlight of his career to date.
“It was high pressure game, I had never felt that amount of pressure before in any match,” said Zaman.
But the pressure wasn’t because of the final or because he was facing India. The pressure was because of his conversation with his parents a day before the match.
“My family was least interested in cricket, they hardly spoke to me about any cricket match before. But prior to the match against India, they all were telling me to perform, to do this, do that,” Zaman revealed.
“It made me come under pressure, made me think about the extraordinary status of the match which I otherwise was taking as just another match,” he said, adding that his father advised him to play more shots along the ground while mother suggested that he play aggressively.
And, it seems, he listened to his mother’s advice.
Nevertheless, Zaman did not let this pressure of family advice distract him from his own cricketing judgements.
“There was good bounce on the wicket and India’s fast bowlers were doing well too. So I decided to charge the spinners and play the fast bowlers on merit,” he said of his plan during the final.
“It (that innings) has changed a lot of things for me. The love I have received from all over is overwhelming. The amount of respect I have received from people in Pakistan has made me feel special and it has encouraged me to do more for Pakistan.”
Zaman started his journey like any other child in Pakistan, with a little bit of interest in cricket but no serious ambitions. He only realised the potential he had when he joined Pakistan Navy and started playing serious cricket there.
He came into the limelight during the second edition of the Pakistan Super League, where he played for Lahore Qalandars and shared a dressing-room with likes of Brendon McCullum. Acknowledging the PSL’s role in facilitating his growth, Zaman credited the PCB’s National Cricket Academy for enhancing his skills.
“I must say that the NCA played an important role in making me what I am today,” he said. “When I first toured with Pakistan A, I was totally a different player and then I was sent to the NCA, where the coaches worked with me to redefine cricket for me.”
The young batsman from Mardan has now set his eyes on the future, with the aim of getting a Test cap.
“It is my dream to play Test cricket for Pakistan. I will also continue to perform according to the expectations of the people, and will also try to bring improvement in my game every single day.”